Is public support for the tea party movement fading?

The tea party movement has lost public support, including in the 60 House districts represented by member of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus. Is that just a blip, or is it significant?

By , Staff writer

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    Tea Party supporter William Temple of Brunswick, Ga., cheers for presidential candidate Herman Cain while waiting for an event to begin at Cain's state headquarters Saturday in Atlanta. Cain later said he was "suspending" his campaign, effectively ending it.
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There comes a point in every political movement when – pick your cliché – the bloom is off the rose, the poetry of the campaign must become the prose of governing, etc.

That seems to be happening now with the tea party movement.

“Since the 2010 midterm elections, the Tea Party has not only lost support nationwide, but also in the congressional districts represented by members of the House Tea Party Caucus,” the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported this past week.

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More Americans say they disagree (27 percent) than agree (20 percent) with the tea party movement, according to a recent Pew survey – just the opposite of public opinion a year ago.

Perhaps more significantly, the snapshot of those 60 House districts now represented by members of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus paints a similar picture.

“Throughout the 2010 election cycle, agreement with the Tea Party far outweighed disagreement,” Pew reports. “But as is the case nationwide, support has decreased significantly over the past year; now about as many people living in Tea Party districts disagree (23 percent) as agree (25 percent) with the Tea Party.”

Note that in both those sets of figures about half the people surveyed had no opinion, suggesting that too much can be made of this new data.

“A 5 to 7 percentage point swing over a year: Is this the stuff of counterrevolutions?” asks Bloomberg News columnist Michael Kinsley, who rightly (and humorously) points out the press’s role here.

“It’s not that the news media is biased against the Tea Party,” Kinsley writes. “We love the Tea Party; it’s been good to us. However, we are biased in favor of change. The story must evolve, even if that means moving backward and repeating itself. Having built the Tea Party up, it is now our job to knock it down a peg or two. Occupiers, don’t gloat. You’re next.”

Still, the tea party movement today must be seen in the context of what’s been happening in Washington – especially the grinding inability of Congress (especially Republicans now in charge of the House) and the Obama administration to adequately deal with budget and taxes, debt and deficit.

Then there’s the Republican presidential campaign in which those candidates most aligned with tea party goals – Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and most recently Herman Cain – have surged ahead then fallen back. (Ron Paul is an exception, but he’s always been an exception.)

There’s a sense, as Pew points out, that any dwindling support for the tea party movement is tied to a general lack of enthusiasm for the GOP hopefuls. (Again, Ron Paul with his solid base of true believers is an exception. Still, he has pretty high unfavorable ratings according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.)

Now, Newt Gingrich is surging ahead in Iowa (but not in New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney holds a solid lead). But Gingrich can hardly be labeled a tea party type, having spent most of his adult life as a Washington insider.

If there’s any bloom off the tea party rose, it’s probably tied to a parallel decline in the Republican Party’s favorability rating in those 60 tea party House districts.

As recently as March, the GOP was viewed favorably in tea party districts 55-39 percent. Just since then, it’s dropped to 41 percent favorable and 48 percent unfavorable.

“What happened?” asks Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza. “To put it bluntly: governing.”

“Establishment Republicans smartly wrapped their arms around the tea party during the 2010 election, grasping that by channeling the passion and energy of these like-minded voters they could score major victories at the ballot box,” he wrote this week. “But once the tea party helped elect a Republican majority, the expectations of what that majority would do were unrealistic.”

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